North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island in disputed waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula Nov. 23. The attack killed four South Koreans, including two civilians, and injured 18. South Korean forces returned artillery fire and have threatened stronger action in the tense days since.
"This crisis reminds us that the Korean Peninsula is always the kind of place where there is not just physical tension but a lot of spiritual conflict," said Park Se-yung*, a Korean-American church mobilizer. "Remember, the North was once called the 'Jerusalem of the East.' A very powerful spiritual revival happened there a century ago. In the last half-century we have suffered this crisis of national separation.
"This is another 'awakening moment' for us -- especially Korean churches, not only in South Korea but around the world. We must desperately pray for the North Korean people. We have a good life physically and spiritually and we have freedom, but somehow we have lost God's heart toward the North Korean people, who have suffered so much and are still suffering. This is another call, especially for Korean churches, to see them through God's eyes."
South Korea has been thrown into a political crisis since the artillery barrage. The government has faced criticism for its response -- and heavy pressure to retaliate more forcefully. The defense minister resigned in the wake of the attack. The nation's intelligence chief, according to news reports, predicted Dec. 1 that another North Korean attack was highly likely. Two days later, Kim Kwan-jin, a top presidential security adviser in line to be the new defense minister, told legislators at his confirmation hearing that if South Korea is attacked again, it will respond by bombing the North.
Tensions between the two countries have been running even higher than usual since March 26, when the South Korean warship Cheonan sank after a North Korean torpedo attack, killing 46 South Korean sailors. Speculation since the Nov. 23 artillery exchange has focused on the possibility that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is ratcheting up tensions to burnish the military credentials of his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un. The elder Kim reportedly suffers poor health and an apparent transition of power has been under way in the North for some time.
In late September the younger Kim was given the rank of four-star general in the People's Army and named deputy chairman of the military commission of the Workers' Party. If he takes control of North Korea, he will be the third member of the "Kim Dynasty," which began with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994.
"As Christians, this transition time is our spiritual awakening time," said Paul Kim, senior pastor of Good Community Church in Torrance, Calif. "All Christians must get together with one mind. God gave us this situation. We have to love Christ first. Then we have to love the North Koreans. This is a good opportunity for God to do something."
Park warned of the dangers of unintended consequences during the military standoff.
Regardless of how carefully both sides calibrate their political and military moves, "something totally unexpected could happen," he said. "Nobody designed it, nobody planned it, but it could happen. And then nobody can control it or stop it. That's my concern. That's why we need to keep praying intentionally and intensively for the North and the South.
"We want God's mercy."
*Name changed. Reported through Baptist Press international channels.
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